The Long Path to Recovery
So far, we have taken all the steps to begin the healing journey. But how can we keep ourselves on track until we’re fully recovered? Today, we’ll look at some common obstacles on the path to recovery.
“I can’t make the phobic situation happen; how can I arrange for self-treatment?”
Even if you are ready to face your spider or snake phobia, you don’t always find a spider or snake in your kitchen when you want to. This may require you to get more creative. For example, you may have to ask a helper to get one from exotic pet store, or get a monthly pass to the zoo. Or if you have fear of thunder and lightning (astrapophobia), you can’t wait for the storm to happen, but you can get CDs or watch movies or videos that involve thunderstorms. Ask your friends and family members to brainstorm treatment ideas with you.
“I can’t stay in the phobic situation long enough to let fear reduce. What can I do?”
Our work here is to drag the fear out of the shadows and really look at it. And it’s not an easy task. Learning to stay with fear is much like muscle training: You must practice your skills regularly to keep in shape. It’s important to choose the coping techniques that work best for you and make them a daily practice. Make sure you keep a healing journal and document your progress as suggested in Lesson 7. The better you understand your panic triggers and responses, the easier it gets to stay in the phobic situations. Here’s another record format you can use in the healing documentation:
Session # ___ (Date: _____)
|My goal / target situation||Expected phobic response||Actual phobic response||Outcome||Coping techniques I used|
Once you’ve identified the most helpful coping skills, stick with them and commit to practicing every day. A daily 15-minute breathing or body-based relaxation exercise can train your brain and body to remember how to respond differently. Like riding a bike, once you know how, you don’t forget. As you become more willing and able to deal with the panics, they will become less important.
“My anxiety seems to build up across the board. I am afraid of a number of situations at the same time. How long does it take to fully recover?”
This is a common problem, especially for those who are agoraphobic. In my case, getting over phobia with dogs and cats does not mean that I could immediately handle cattle and poultry at a farm; likewise, even after you grow to be able to travel on a bus, you may not be able to travel in a subway without additional work. You will have to go through another gradual exposure. This is why breaking down your goals and steps and evaluating your progress are so important. Once you’ve achieved one goal, repeat the exercise in Lesson 4 to plan the steps for other goals. Your confidence shall be higher by then, of course, so it should be a bit easier.
“I feel a lot better after the first few sessions, but fear seems to come back. How can I maintain the progress I’ve made?”
It is absolutely normal to experience a brief return of old phobic patterns, especially when you are stressed, experiencing a low mood, or simply exhausted. Anxiety often ebbs and flows; recovery is not always linear. It’s helpful to expect your healing journey to be like a spiral. Your task is to keep the spiral going upward instead of downward. If you see a return episode as a careless mistake that you can recover from, you can overcome it by getting back to practicing your skills regularly. But if you see your slip-up as a sign of failure, you will be tempted to give up completely and experience a relapse.
According to Anxiety UK, relapse is “an increase in unhelpful thinking and behaviours after a period of feeling improved or after experiencing better mental health.” In the case of phobia, a relapse can involve increased symptoms of panic or increased negative thoughts. Statistics tell us that nearly 80% of phobia sufferers find relief in medicines and behavior therapy, but 50% of these people tend to relapse when they end medication or stop attending therapy session.
Relapse of fear is a major problem in phobia treatment. Tomorrow, we will go into the details about relapse prevention strategy.
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